Meeting the parents has been a regular staple of most mainstream comedysince, um, Meet The Parents. This year we’ve had Guess Who,Monster-In-Law and even Wedding Crashers all riffing on theidea. This month, first time writer-director Thomas Bezucha manages to pitthe awkward situation at its perfect setting: Christmas.
Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) is being brought home for thefirst time by Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) for the festive season.Meredith’s uptight and traditional attitude is an immediate clash for theliberal Stone family. They include the matriarch with a secret (DianeKeaton), the bitchy sister (Rachel McAdams) and the stoner brother (LukeWilson). As Meredith struggles to impress, the Stone family slowly gang upon her and she calls her sister (Claire Danes) for last minute help. Yet herarrival causes more trouble than she could have expected.
The Family Stone takes on the traditional arc of the dysfunctional familyand fills it to the brim with every possible character type, designed toappeal to every demographic. This is most apparent with the gay son who’salso deaf – and he has a black boyfriend as well. Tick, tick, tick. Aswith most films of this type there’s also some terminal illness on the prowlwhich arrives in the most predictable manner of all. The terminal illnessstoryline is forced and derivative. Also featured are some of those momentswhere characters see someone else for the first time and immediately fall inlove with them. Convenient for the writer – their relationshiptherefore requires less development.
But despite these problems, The Family Stone proves to be likeable entertainment. Thefilm cleverly pitches Meredith’s character against the family Stone and alsorefuses to make one party either good or bad. There are some frosty momentsfrom Meredith, yet also some unnecessary nastiness from the family at large.It’s in the setup that the film is at it’s best. There is some palpableembarrassment as both parties try in vain to make a good impression. As it allprogresses, interest wanders slightly, but never completely dissipates.
A film such as this requires a fantastic cast and luckily that’s wherethe film ticks most boxes. Sarah Jessica Parker takes on her first major film roleand delivers a surprising performance. She manages brilliantly to pulloff a completely different character than her Sex and the City alter ego asthe cold and not always likeable Meredith. Diane Keaton continues to have anillustrious late 50s career and delivers a conventional but successfulrole. Rachel McAdams tops off a star-making year with another greatperformance while Dermot Mulroney and Claire Danes are a little bland toreally register. Their scenes are where the film sags slightly.
Due to its large cast it doesn’t always manage to develop all of thevarious family relationships fully, but The Family Stone contains enoughentertaining moments for it not to really matter. It doesn’t have as muchdepth as other dysfunctional family dramas, but this is primarily acrowd-pleasing comedy, albeit with dramatic undertones in the latter stages.Most importantly, it will definitely get you in the mood forChristmas.